So often in the sport of showing dogs, it seems that the same breeders, owners, professional handlers, judges and exhibitors are in the limelight year after year. The names of the relative few who have the greatest ongoing success become familiar to others who show dogs, and new names become easily recognized on rare occasions. While those who are especially successful in the sport of course deserve a great deal of recognition, thousands of people devote hours upon hours of their spare time to the sport in other ways, simply out of a love for purebred dogs. It often seems that little recognition is offered to these fanciers.

In 2006 the American Kennel Club established a program that in a small way helps to achieve this purpose, to honor individuals who have “made a difference” to the sport and who have been “active and valued” members of an AKC member club.

Today more than 5,000 dog clubs in America host events under the auspices of the American Kennel Club, including national parent clubs, local breed clubs, all-breed clubs and those devoted to obedience, agility, tracking, lure coursing, earthdog, herding, field trials and more. Everyone who works for any of AKC’s clubs does so purely as a volunteer. Many people devote hours upon hours to putting on the dog shows and performance events we enjoy, and also to community service projects and initiatives that help educate the public about purebred dogs.

Of course, only 10 percent of those clubs, or about 500, are AKC member clubs. Those clubs are provided with an AKC medallion each year that members may, at their discretion, present to a member they feel has made a contribution to the sport of dogs. AKC calls this part of its “ongoing efforts to recognize and celebrate its volunteer club members.”

Since its inception, more than 700 fanciers have been honored with this award. When you read the list of Outstanding Sportsmanship Award recipients, you may find a few familiar names, but many of the people who’ve been recognized may only be familiar to those in their immediate areas. Many of these recipients just go quietly about their way, helping their clubs and their fellow fanciers in myriad ways. The beauty of the Outstanding Sportsmanship Award is that recipients are selected at the most basic level, where the work of these individuals may only be seen by a few, but can have a significant impact on the sport, its participants and on purebred dogs.

Each club may set up its own system to select medallion recipients. Some clubs allow their boards of directors to select the recipient. Some clubs ask their memberships for nominees or suggestions for who might receive the award. Almost all clubs have a set of guidelines that assist in selecting a member to honor.

Phil Freilich, president of the Contra Costa County Kennel Club, presents member Eva Berg with an AKC Outstanding Sportsmanship Award in 2012. Photo courtesy of Contra Costa County KC.

One example of criteria that a club uses to select an honoree is that created by the Great Pyrenees Club of America. The club asks its membership to consider the following in selecting the person to receive the medallion:
“This award honors those individuals who deserve special recognition in that they have:
• Made a difference in the sport of purebred dogs
• Made a difference in the GPCA through their direct actions
• Supported the Great Pyrenees breed in some way that has made the person an example for other to follow
• Embodies the AKC Code of Sportsmanship
• Is an active and valued member of the GPCA
• Has Full Membership status in the GPCA
• Is a resident of the United States.”

The American Pointer Club has set forth similar guidelines, which include the following: “The candidates nominated must demonstrate some of the following qualities:
I. Promotes goodwill amongst others.
II. Supports the activities/wins of others, extending good wishes
III. Has the “good of the dogs” at heart
IV. Encourages others who may need encouragement
V. Is courteous, friendly and kind, especially to newcomers
VI. Volunteers time to educate people about dogs, the club and club activities. Shows interest regarding other breeders’ ideas and thoughts on breeding, their litters and their dogs
VII. Offers ideas for breeding, care, grooming, handling, training, etc.
VIII. Displays integrity, fairness and honesty”

The Saluki Club of America has set slightly different, but similarly stringent, criteria: “Nominees and nominations may ONLY come from SCOA members. The nominee’s contributions within the past year are the focus of the award. An SCOA member who is to be recognized for providing service to the club such as:
• Someone demonstrating leadership within the club as demonstrated by solid contributions to committees, events, or other activities that support the mission of the club
• Someone demonstrating outstanding support of club activities and direction.”

Regardless of the specific criteria set up by individual clubs for those who will receive the Outstanding Sportsmanship Award, the program allows fanciers to give their peers the recognition so many deserve for the hours, days and often years they devote to their clubs, their breeds and the sport in general.

Perhaps clubs that are not AKC member clubs will consider developing their own sportsmanship award that will recognize the contributions of their valued members.

These people have received the AKC award so far in 2012:
• American Belgian Tervuren Club – Jill Morstad
• Bayou Kennel Club – Pat and Ruth Booker
• Border Terrier Club of America – Laurale Stern
• California Collie Clan – Teri Konoske
• Canada Del Oro Kennel Club – Robert Edison
• Central Iowa Kennel Club – Pam Talley
• Chicago Bulldog Club – Karan Rose Kilgus
• Chintimini Kennel Club – Susan Pisias
• Contra Costa County Kennel Club – Eva Berg
• Glen of Imaal Terrier Club of America – Frank and Mary Murphy
• Irish Wolfhound Club of America – Jacqueline Carswell
• Jaxon Kennel Club – Jo Everett
• Lake Champlain Retriever Club – Wayne Goodrich
• Lehigh Valley Kennel Club – Denice Van Driesen
• Macon Kennel Club – Vicki L. Turner
• Mastiff Club of America – David Hussey
• New England Old English Sheepdog Club – Marcia Quinlan
• Newfoundland Club of America – Deborah Bridge
• Okaloosa Kennel Club – Gina Columbo
• Orlando Dog Training Club – Maggie Eslinger
• Otterhound Club of America – Jan Diemer
• Ox Ridge Kennel Club – Jane McLane
• Poodle Club of America – Toni and Martin Sosnoff
• San Antonio Kennel Club – Renate Richter
• Santa Clara Valley Kennel Club – Pat and Rosalie Alvarez
• Scottsdale Dog Fanciers Association – Susan Davies
• Skyline Kennel Club – Jill and Kenny Wilkinson
• Tennessee Valley Kennel Club – Barbara Price
• Valley Forge Kennel Club – Jean Hansley
• Waukesha Kennel Club – Sandy Patterson
• Welsh Springer Spaniel Club of America – Elizabeth Wasserman
• Westbury Kennel Association – Jennifer Armstrong
• Western Fox Terrier Breeders Association – Claire Hoffman